Highlighting significance of mystery assistant ‘Ali’ to Alfred Wallace’s works on evolution theory shows importance of museum

Abang Johari addressing the official launching of Borneo Cultures Museum.

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By Karen Bong

KUCHING, March 4: Behind the achievements of British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who discovered the theory of evolution in his expedition to the Malay Archipelago including Sarawak in the 19th century, was a hitherto understated assistant only known as ‘Ali’.

Premier of Sarawak Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg highlighted that the works contributed by Ali, a young Malay boy who was one of the assistants and later became a faithful companion to Wallace, had supported and contributed to the scientific discovery of the famous explorer and humanist.


Abang Johari said he found and learnt about Ali in the archives of the British National Museum in London when he visited as a minister in charge of tourism with a few colleagues in preparation for the planning of a new Sarawak museum.

“There were a few artifacts tied to the history of Sarawak. Among them was the history of Alfred Wallace, who with the support of James Brooke co-developed the theory of natural selection and evolution with Charles Darwin.

“Alfred Wallace introduced the Simunjan Law, which was related to the ‘butterflies incident’ and more interestingly, it highlighted the role of one assistant to Wallace named Ali believed to be from Kampung Jaie, Asajaya.

“The works contributed by Ali had supported Wallace and others to continue their research and study on evolution,” he said during the official launch of the Borneo Cultures Museum (BCM) by Head of State Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud tonight.

A stunning projection mapping show featured on the facade of the Borneo Cultures Museum to mark the historical moment.

With that, Abang Johari emphasised the importance of the Sarawak Museum Department in protecting and preserving the heritage of Sarawak, that will in turn promote the growth of the cultural and creative industries under the purview of the Ministry of Tourism, Creative Industry and Performing Arts.

He said the Sarawak government through its agencies, primarily the Sarawak Museum Department, has always been a proud custodian of Sarawakian tradition and culture, while also continually seeking for means to enable its transformation into a modern and thriving society.

“A significant component of our objective is to enhance our education and other aspects, such as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, and digital literacy.

“The BCM, which is outfitted with interactive displays and modern exhibition technology, will also function as a catalyst to boost STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education in our society,” he elaborated.

“As a world-class repository, the BCM is anticipated to serve as a centre of learning, attracting more academics and researchers from both local and international institutions in our effort to be enriched with more knowledge from Borneo’s rich history, cultures, and nature.”

This, he added, is very much in line with Sarawak’s aim of developing an economy that is data-driven.

As can be seen in developed economies, Abang Johari strongly believes that a society entrenched with the research culture and a data-driven mindset will have greater analytical skills, enhanced problem-solving capacities, better decision-making, and will generate ideas and innovation of ways to improve every aspect of life.

“This aligns with the State’s strategic aim of creating human capital and driving digital adoption, with an emphasis on digital competences such as data analytics and problem-solving abilities, which would assist the State in developing digital and creative talents for its workforce,” he added.

Taib’s wife Toh Puan Raghad Kurdi Taib, Deputy Premier Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas, Minister of Tourism, Creative Industry and Performing Arts Dato Sri Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah, Federal Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Dato Sri Nancy Shukri, State Secretary Datuk Amar Jaul Samion were among the guests present. — DayakDaily